In Myrtle Beach, there is a big touristy open air mall called Broadway at the Beach. It has a lot of boardwalks over a pond, and there are these big creepy koi in it. At many places, there are little vending machines for fish food – drop in a quarter and get a handful of kibble to throw to the fish. They have also opened up a new section of the mall, and over the weekend we saw some stores that we had never seen before. One of them was a scrapbooking store.
The very first thing I saw when we approached the store was a big handlettered sign hanging in the center of the door. It said “NO CHANGE for fish!” That, my friends at the scrapbooking store, is what you call a tactical mistake. I don’t care about scrapbooking and wasn’t in any danger of browsing, but some day in the right situation and the right whim I might. However, if the first thing I encounter is a big sign in the negative, if the single most important thing for them to tell me is what they won’t do for me, who needs them? There are 200 other stores to browse. This is not at all uncommon. I see signs like this all the time, most commonly from mom and pop retailers that one presumes could use all the business they can drum up.
Suppose now you took the exactly opposite approach. What if you as the store manager keep a special section in the cash drawer with an extra $100 in quarters specifically earmarked for fish food change. You don’t cut into the operation of your business, when that runs out its out, but until then you happily make change for anyone that asks. In addition, you make up a one page sheet with information about scrapbooking, why you would do it, the store hours and phone number and website. When they ask for change, you give them the sheet. Then, you rip down the negative sign and put one up that says “Of course we have change for fish! Come on in!”
You’ve got a hook bringing people into your store that wouldn’t naturally set foot inside and you are blowing it. Don’t fight it, go with it. I’m amazed at small retailers that consistently blow their first impressions on trivia, on things that are irrelevant to customers or that actively discourage people from interacting with you. In a big box world, the thing you have to offer as a tiny story owner is that personal relationship. Don’t work so hard to avoid that.